Why Vitamin D?

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In the world of nutrition, supplements live in murky territory. While we want to make sure we're getting all of the vitamins and minerals we need, research from Harvard Medical School shows that these nutrients are more powerful when they come from real foods as opposed to pills.

There's one vitamin in particular, though, that's pretty hard to get on your own, unless you live in a tropical locale: vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin. Here's why vitamin D is so important— and what you need to know about supplementing.

The Benefits of Vitamin D One of the biggest roles vitamin D plays in your body is helping your bones grow, says Shanna Levine, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. "It has also been found to play a role in cell growth, reduction of inflammation, and neuromuscular function," she says.

Your body creates vitamin D when exposed to UVB rays from the sun— but if you live north of Atlanta, due to the way the sun is positioned, that only happens between April and October, says Holick.

But you won't really know that you're deficient unless you get tested— and vitamin D screenings aren't exactly standard. That said, if you think your levels are lagging(being super drained and experiencing aches and pains are both signs you could be in need of D), it's reasonable to consider the blood test. (Just go in the winter, when your levels are most likely to be low, says Levine.) If you are indeed deficient, your doc may prescribe 1,000 to 2,000 International Units a day or more, depending on your levels, she says.

So, Should You Actually Take a Supplement?

In the scientific community, whether or not we all need a daily supplement of D is a controversialquestion that depends on a lot of different factors. Research supports both sides— as do experts. Holick says, "absolutely, positively yes," we all should all supplement. The National Institutes of Health recommends the average person get 600 IUs a day. But if you're a big seafood fan, get plenty of sunshine, and don't have any symptoms, it's likely not necessary, says Levine.

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